At a time when many in government IT are feeling overwhelmed by the efforts required to secure systems against web-based threats, Authentic8 is taking a novel approach to cybersecurity by leveraging the web browser as the solution.
The 10-year-old GovCon company’s Silo product is a web browser in the cloud. It delivers a remote browsing experience that keeps malicious code from ever reaching the IT environment or end device.
“Your antivirus software is scanning things you download from the internet via your browser,” said Justin Cleveland, Authentic8’s head of government business. “Your internet proxy is trying to determine what’s good traffic and what’s bad traffic. The entire security industry is really built around the browser.”
Rather than fear the browser as a point of attack, Authentic8 pivots to use it as the front line of defense.
With the browser in the cloud, detached from the IT environment, there’s a natural security barrier.
“You click on what you think is a cat video, and it’s really a malware attack,” Cleveland said. “With the browser running in our cloud infrastructure, that malware attack hits our machine in the cloud, and your computer is impervious.”
It’s the kind of elegant solution that promises to make government systems safer while simultaneously easing the extraordinary burden surrounding cybersecurity.
“Your cybersecurity spending shrinks, the work shrinks, the amount of staffing required to deal with all the security shrinks,” Cleveland added.
As a Silicon Valley-based firm, Authentic8 has taken an edgier-than-usual approach to laying out its value proposition to potential government customers.
At last year’s RSA conference, for example, the company spoofed the current crop of cyber solutions by pretending to offer snake oil, a magic artificial intelligence tincture that could harden systems against incursion.
“It hits a nerve, especially if you’re a [chief information security officer]or [chief information officer]and you get these buttoned-up guys coming in with their shiny shoes,” Cleveland said. “I can’t tell you how many requests I got from government leaders in the IT space. I probably have two dozen bottles of ‘snake oil’ on some senior officials’ desks in the government now.”
While the company has a solid foothold in the defense and intelligence space, its customer base reaches across a wide range of public sector agencies, with some 160 government customers already in the fold.
“This appeals to any senior government official who is trying to safely access the internet,” Cleveland said. “We’ve hit our revenue targets coming on three years in a row and they were fairly aggressive growth strategies.”
Even so, Authentic8 hasn’t been exempt from feeling the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has taken a cultural shift.
As a global company, Authentic8 already had much of the infrastructure in place to accommodate the logistics of social distancing.
“We have marketing in Indianapolis, all of our technical teams on the West Coast, our CEO is usually traveling between D.C., Silicon Valley and Europe, and we’re supporting global governments from Australia all the way to the United States,” Cleveland said.
While the company spent years working out the complexities of remote work, the Washington, D.C.-based team still had to make some adjustments.
“I used to be able to turn around and tap one of my deputies or my sales leader or my account executives and say: ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’” Cleveland said. “Now that requires a phone call, a text message. It’s a harder process, it’s a longer process.”
Amid the challenges, the company has been ramping up its outreach to clients. That includes posting a series of 15-minute webinars on YouTube, with tips and tricks on how to conduct better open-source intelligence.
“During the COVID crisis, our communication with our customers — who are traditionally in secure areas, secure buildings, not necessarily always present on the unclassified network — has actually increased significantly,” Cleveland said.
The webinars provide practical information, and other benefits as well.
“Some organizations’ employees are on site once a week, some employees are on site for a week and then off two,” he said. “These people are highly skilled professionals: They want to get better. They want to sharpen the sword. By providing learning opportunities for our customer set, it has increased their trust in us not only as a platform vendor, but as the true leader in the space.”
Looking ahead, company leaders have their eye on America’s European and NATO allies as the next logical market for expansion.
“They have similar missions to our government customers here in the United States,” Cleveland said. “They have similar challenges, so they make a natural fit. We beat our target for business with allies last year and that really opened our eyes to say: ‘OK, this is a market we need to take a concerted run at.’”
On a personal level, as a veteran of both the GovCon space and the intelligence community, Cleveland brings a personal passion to the subject of cybersecurity.
“I’m still a patriot at heart,” he said. “The technology aspect of it is great, but bridging that gap between technology and mission is what excites me. We get to help solve really hard problems for agencies that really matter.”